Self-made outcasts

Following is my review of Oregairu Season 1.

To state it’s full name: Yahari Ore no Seishun Rabu Kome wa Machigatteiru,  or in its English transliteration, My Teen Romantic Comedy is Wrong As I Expected.

Based off a series of light novels written by Wataru Watari, Oregairu (as it is commonly known) is now into its second season which is due to end soon. Hence my decision to look back at its first season and write my feelings about it.

The story follows Hikigaya Hachiman (the boy in the picture above), an outcast by his own choosing who is disillusioned with the whole concept of youth. As a remedy, his teacher  enrolls him in the Service Club, run by cool, smart, progressive and also outcast-by-choosing Yukinoshita Yukinon (the one with the dark hair). The purpose of the Service Club is to help other students with their daily problems such as friendships, loves, occasional event management and such.

The first customer is Yuigahama Yui (the one with the pink hair) who, after being ‘helped’ by the club decides to join the club because she wants to be friends with Yukinon and ‘Hikky’ as she calls Hikigaya.

And that is the basic premise of the first season of Oregairu.

Three high-schoolers, helping out their comrades in their daily challenges, all the while taking a pretty deep look into themselves occasionally.

To start with, OreGairu Season 1, hands down, is one of the best written animes I’ve come across. With many slice of life and romcom anime, dialogue comes across a little heavy as the shows don’t have a lot of visual drama. Thus it needs to make up with conversational bombshells so most slice of life anime tend to be on the heavy-handed side.

Not so with OreGairu S1. The dialogue is immaculate and in the cold, atonal, indifferent voice of Hikigaya Hachiman we find the perfect narrator. It’s well written, clear, sharp dialogue that’s story driven and concise, sacrificing a whole lot of exaggeration for subtle sub-text and nuance, it’s amazing script here. It keeps you glued to the screen.

The dialogue hits you right in the face, like the towel about to hit our favorite loner above.

But good dialogue would be meaningless without great characters and thankfully, OreGairu doesn’t disappoint.

I can truthfully say, without any regrets, that Hikigaya Hachiman is the most original character I’ve come across in any anime. He’s the only character, I’ve felt, that could actually be alive in our world right now. That’s how well thought out his character is. He is realistic, more than a tad pessimistic, downright rude, insecure, self-aware, crude and full of original, wonderful ideas that place him in a class of his own among amazing anime characters. Add to that mix his intelligence and his sarcasm, it makes for a character that’s impeccably real and well-written.

Sadly though, the only other character that comes close to this ideal is Yukinoshita Yukinon. The other outcast/misfit-by-choosing is also smart, intelligent, original, sardonic, realistic and frequently rude and differs from Hikigaya by crucial point: minus his overwhelming pessimism. She dedicates herself to her studies and extracurriculars, cares about people around her and if she comes across as stand-offish, it’s only because she is a little too smart to fit in.

But as I mentioned before, the rest of the cast don’t really hold up that well against the standards set by Hikigaya and Yukinon. They are shallow, one-dimensional and very easily judged. Even our third main character, Yuigahama Yui is rather yawn-worthy; she is a typical innocent girl type who’s kind and caring and naive and a little on the slow side.

Now normally I’d find this inexcusable but surprisingly, this combination of characters actually works. Why? Because we see the story from Hikigaya’s point of view. And obviously, to one as lonely (by choice) and pessimistic (by choice) and cynical (by choice) as he is, everyone else would appear like cardboard cutouts. Indeed, he is quick to judge and make snap-judgements about everyone he meets that are mostly, nearly always correct. It’s his superpower almost. So him being one of the only two, actually original characters? Very very good.

As for Ms. Goody Two Shoes Yukinon being fleshed out and also very real, she’s one of the few characters that can understand Hikigaya’s viewpoints. She’s also a loner (by choice) and also slightly cynical (by choice) and largely pessimistic (by choice but only about Hikigaya). So it’s natural that Hikigaya, and by extension we, feel like she’s interesting. But what makes her even more interesting is that despite how similar they are, Yukinon is adamant in setting herself apart from Hikigaya and views him as inferior to her, a view that Hikigaya neither disproves nor agrees with. So because of their similarity, their being loners, they are real, fleshed out characters.

The rest are sad, shallow one-dimensional pricks, always at the receiving end of Hikigaya’s cynical snap-judgements and while some part of me knows that shallow characters kill a story, the narrative point of OreGairu saves it.

Aesthetic wise, there isn’t much to talk about. The anime’s environments, music, animation and all matters production is okay. They’re decent, they’re not eye-catching but that’s okay because that’s not the focus.

The story and the characters are the focus and that’s been done brilliantly. In a world filled with heavy-handed romcoms full of mind-bending love triangles, lust, anger, betrayal and jealousy, OreGairu proves to be a refreshingly light breather looking at the most basic, default and instinctive kind of relationship Teenagers have: friendship. It’s light, funny and smart, a Holden Caulfield meets Will Grayson (from the book John Green co-authored with David Levithan, look it up people) type of narrative that’s bound to have you laughing, cursing and occasionally, wanting to throw a book at our oh-so-friendly main character Hikigaya Hachiman.

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